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A Nietzschean Bestiary: Becoming Animal Beyond Docile and Brutal, edited by Christa Davis Acampora and Ralph R. Acampora; xxxii & 371 pp. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. $75.00 cloth, $29.95 paper.

What if instead of re-reading Nietzsche's corpus, one imagines what it would be like to view his works on the "Nietzsche Network." Imagine a spectator situated in the middle of a vast amphitheatre preparing to watch these simulacra. Gazing up and around a series of giant, flat-screen video monitors arrayed in layers around the interior wall of an amphitheatre, the spectator views and listens to Nietzsche's multi-media texts as, simultaneously, they seductively flash their provocative narratives in flickering streams of high-resolution sounds, words, and images.

The Nietzsche Network is a roaring carnival. It consists of colorful, speculative historical dramatizations and equally enticing philosophical tableaux. Dark ambient musical motifs, laced with interludes of explosive, uncontrollable laughter, are a subliminal presence. Lurid detective stories and somber cultural narratives and slashing polemics implicate cultures and ideologies in festivals of cruelty and soul-murder. Poignant genealogical and aphoristic asides on joy [End Page 443] and work and suffering, weird psychological skits starring well-known ensemble casts are accompanied by hoarse oratory, soaring denunciations, and sober etymological digressions. Intermittently, the spectator is startled by abrupt, sometimes strident proclamations, like confessional bulletins shot from nowhere.

Nietzsche's siren-like prose exhibits an extraordinary rhetorical range. This is particularly true of the polychromatic works originally published in the gloaming of his career in the period after 1886. Nietzsche's compelling, fluvial style is accounted for in this volume by the kinetic movements of lizards and the halcyon tones of birds, to his study of the ancient Greek and Roman classics (and to the lost musicality of Greek tragedy in particular), and to his emphatic embrace of a kind of plosive, Dionysian philosophical technics.

The content of the Nietzsche Network spans thousands of years of human experience and thought. A prequel features a substantial bestiary of traditional animals and emergent biomorphic forms set in a variety of carefully animated zoological dioramas. Among the modernists, has there been another thinker as strangely original and subversive? Allowing for fundamental differences, only Valéry comes to mind. Like the silent, ruminating cow in his "untimely" essay on history, Nietzsche prevents the past from injecting noise into present and future philosophizing. He will be the exemplary philosopher of the other-than-human as he campaigns to re-inscribe human animality into the zoological text of nature. Through explicit pronouncements and in scattered philosophical sorties involving human animality and his (desperate) utopist vision of human perfectibility, Nietzsche attempted to attain—at least conceptually—what Richard Rorty aptly calls the "historical sublime, a future which has broken all relations with the past."

This excellent collection of essays on Nietzsche's bestiary demonstrates the surprising persistence of the animal imaginary in his thought. The various pieces also illuminate the multiple thematic and linguistic transformations Nietzsche develops as he enlists animals in his feral, anti-essentialist dialectic on the obscure continuum between "humans," "animals," and "nature." It turns out that a degraded version of Nietzsche's strangest thought experiment on animalism, the übermensch, is perhaps only a few years away from being produced through emerging boutique bioengineering, a prospect that has some commentators on both the left and the right blinking with apprehension. These essays amply demonstrate that Nietzsche's bestial philosophy of human and animal alterity subverts, among other paradigms, the strange Cartesian notion that animals are mechanical automata while humans are transcendental rationalists. As one commentator in this book broadly puts it, Nietzsche shows that the various schemes concocted to put an illusory distance between humans and animals have ended up being an immensely corrupting "pretense" (p. 224).

Precursor bestiaries are indicated in this volume, though the medieval tradition originating in the Physiologus is here mostly displaced by a different [End Page 444] menagerie of cultural affiliations. The fabulist Aesop is present, along with Aristotle and Montaigne, though La Fontaine is not, and Pico Mirandola's famous remarks in his Oration on the plasticity—and potential animalism—of human nature is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 443-447
Launched on MUSE
2004-11-15
Open Access
No
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